Mrs. Michelle Bachelet
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
United Nations office
Palace of Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Paris, June 13, 2022
Subject: Urgent need to remedy the dire situation of imprisoned journalists in Iran
Dear High Commissioner,
On the occasion of the 50th session of the Human Rights Council which opens today, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an independent international organization which promotes and defends the right to free, independent and pluralist journalism, wishes draw your attention to the appalling conditions of detention to which too many journalists are subjected in Iran.
Currently in this country, ranked 178th out of 180 in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index, 24 journalists are languishing in prison for having exercised their profession. Several of them are ill and deprived of medical care, and others are the subject of direct and indirect death threats from the prison administration.
Among the imprisoned journalists, we are gravely concerned about the health of Narges Mohammadi and Alieh Motalebzadeh, both arrested at their homes on 12 April and taken to the notorious Evin prison and then to Gharchak women’s prison, while that they were on parole for medical reasons. Since then, their detention has been a long ordeal: while she had undergone a heart operation shortly before, Ms. Mohammadi was deprived by the prison administration of her medical treatment for a week. And on April 23, Ms Motalebzadeh and Ms Mohammadi were told they were “banned from sick leave for six and three months respectively” and that the country’s prison organization had filed a complaint against them.
It is clear that this deterioration in their conditions of detention comes in retaliation for the attempts of these detainees to have their most fundamental rights respected, as Mrs. Motalebzadeh had tried to do by writing an open letter to the head of the judicial system, Mr. Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, to challenge the illegality of his arrest and to denounce the harassment by members of the intelligence services against him in Evin prison. Her continued detention, when she should have been released legally after having served a third of her sentence, also says a lot.
We are concerned about this new technique of repression which aims to psychologically and physically break imprisoned opponents and critics by depriving them of their basic right to access health care and by persistently imprisoning them – on spurious grounds – for the mere exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
Despite their recent release and their advanced age, journalists Kayvan Samimi Behbahani (73) and Alireza Saghafi (69), prominent figures in Iranian journalism, were recently sent back to prison to serve 3 years and 1 year respectively behind bars. The first was released in February after medical examiners confirmed his “inability to endure the conditions of detention”, while the second was already suffering from hypertension at the time of his arrest and severe fatigue caused by a diet disastrous in detention.
The Coronavirus pandemic, despite its lethality in Iran, has not slowed down the use of this repressive technique either: Reza Khandan Mahabadi (60), journalist and member of the Iranian Writers Association, hospitalized in early January after As his health has seriously deteriorated following his infection with the coronavirus, he was forced to return to his cell on April 5, although he still suffers from respiratory problems. Authorities learned no lesson from the tragic death of fellow inmate Baktash Abtin, also a member of the Iranian Writers Association, who was not treated in time and died on January 8, 2022 of a coronavirus infection. in Evin prison.
Unfortunately, independent voices trying to raise Iranian public opinion about these shameless deprivations of care are also suppressed, such as the photojournalist Soheil Arabi, already heavily imprisoned in the past, who was sentenced to two years in prison last April.
This disastrous situation therefore calls for strong and immediate action from your office. We respectfully urge you to call on the Iranian authorities to respect their international commitments, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a party, and to urge them to obtain the unconditional release of the journalists in Iran.
While under the ICCPR, deprivation of medical care constitutes a violation of the prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Iranian law (arts. 102 and 104-3 of the Prison Rules in Iran) requires prison authorities to provide sick prisoners with adequate care.
On January 15, 2022, RSF called on the UN special rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Iran, on extrajudicial executions and on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to do all the light on the circumstances of the death of Baktash Abtin. . Now is the time to put an end to this systematic criminal behavior by the authorities and we urge you to act.
Director, Advocacy and Assistance